Santa Monica council OKs plastic bag ban

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Come September, that oft-repeated query “Paper or plastic?” will no longer be uttered in supermarket checkout lanes in Santa Monica.

With single-use plastic bags about as popular as restaurant ashtrays in this progressive beachfront city, the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to ban their distribution in stores.

Plastic bags: An article in the Jan. 27 LATExtra section about the Santa Monica City Council’s decision to ban single-use plastic bags incorrectly paraphrased comments by Mayor Richard Bloom. At a Jan. 25 council meeting, Bloom spoke of bags collecting on freeway embankments and catching in trees, but he did not say that bags floating on the breeze created potential hazards for motorists. —

The action was urged by Heal the Bay and other environmental groups that say widespread use of the cheap bags has created a global “plastic pollution plague.”

Under the ordinance, plastic bags will no longer be available at grocery stores, clothing shops or other retailers, although restaurants may use them for takeout food. Smaller plastic “product bags” with no handles, like those used for produce, will be allowed for public health reasons.


Heal the Bay praised the action, saying the vote added momentum to similar proposals throughout California. Already, bans have been approved in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, Marin County and the city of San Jose. The city of Calabasas will consider its own ban next week.

“The Santa Monica council’s leadership today shows that local governments are going to address this critical issue despite threats from industry and state inaction,” said Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay. “The plastics industry knows the writing is on the wall.”

Santa Monica had first planned to hear the item two years ago, but an industry group’s threat of a lawsuit prompted the city to conduct an environmental review of the ordinance.

Stephen Joseph, a spokesman for the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, commended Santa Monica for making changes based on environmental analyses. For example, the original proposal would have banned reusable polyethylene bags in favor of bags made of cloth or other durable, washable materials. But the city changed course based on a Los Angeles County environmental study that said polyethylene reusable bags can be wiped clean and used multiple times, and meet a higher standard than the single-use grocery bags.

Shoppers may bring reusable bags to the stores or purchase paper bags at checkout for at least 10 cents each. Grocery stores and pharmacies would be able to distribute paper bags made with a high proportion of recycled material.

Heal the Bay said the measure seeks to end the “environmental and fiscal waste” created by the use of about 26 million single-use plastic shopping bags each year in Santa Monica alone. California municipalities spend nearly $25 million each year to collect and dispose of plastic bag waste, the group said.


Less than 5% of plastic grocery bags are recycled each year statewide, with others filling space in landfills and harming animals when the bags wind up in waterways. In offering his support for the measure, Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom also noted that many bags float on the breeze, creating potential hazards for motorists.

Heal the Bay said its next battlefield would be the city of Los Angeles.